Posts Tagged access

Register Your Support for the Universal Declaration on Archives

To raise awareness of the profession, the International Council on Archives (ICA) is enlisting the support of the public to promote Universal Declaration on Archives (UDA) by signing the UDA online register.  The UDA has been endorsed by the ICA as a key pillar of its outreach and advocacy policy and strategy.  Followers and supporters may also share the link to further publicize the Declaration.

The UDA was adopted in principle in 2009 at the ICA Annual General Meeting in Malta.  It was developed by a special working group of the ICA, the SPA (Section of Professional Associations), based on the model of the “Déclaration québécoise des Archives“.  On 17 September 2010, the ICA unanimously approved the text of the UDA at their Annual General Meeting held in Oslo.  On 10th November 2011, the UDA was officially endorsed by UNESCO and adopted by the 36th plenary session of the General Conference of UNESCO .

The Declaration concisely outlines the unique characteristics of archives and the management requirements to provide ongoing records access. It has been conceived as a basis for advocacy and promotion to support archives and the profession, and addresses a wide public. Available in 25 languages, it is a statement of the relevance of archives in modern society and marks an important step in improving understanding and awareness of archives among the general public and key decision-makers.



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Government Restructuring Dismantles the Guatemalan Archives of Peace

Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive and contributor to the blog, Unredacted, has shared some disturbing news with AW that is sure to upset many archivists and disrupt Guatemalan civil society. The Secretary of Peace, Antonio Arenales Forno stated that by June 29 the government would, “cancel [labor] contracts for which I see no justification and end the functions of an office that I find makes no sense.”

Doyle has worked with files of the Guatemalan National Police Archives in a recent trial against officers who perpetrated violence and government repression against activists during the 36-year internal conflict that ended in 1996.  The Peace Archives comprise of documentation that provided material for this trial, inter alia. Specifically, the archives house government files from the civil war.  The archives were just conceived in 2008, preceding an access to information law passed the same year.  The FOI law was intended to create openness and government transparency.  This recent announcement to dismantle the archives is a step back for human rights defenders engaged in truth and reconciliation, open memory, and right-to-know initiatives.

However, in Doyle’s article for Unredacted, the Secretary of Peace defends his decision, admitting that “he was unsure what the government would do with the institution’s extensive digital archives, suggesting they may be transferred to the General Archives of Central America” among other government institutions.  The Secretary told the press that the redistribution of the files is part of the broad restructuring of the government.

In cases of transitional governments, the issue of the trustworthiness of stewards or custodians of material documenting human rights violations is crucial from the perspective of the archival community. Trudy Huskamp Peterson, Chair of the ICA Human Rights Working Group, stresses that if the incumbent government archives cannot be trusted, then an intermediary repository, managed by trusted groups or individuals should be created.  Currently, the Secretary has not announced any concrete plan toward housing the files to be redistributed making it difficult to assess the impact of the restructuring.  Peterson goes further to state:

But if these are government records, they should eventually go back into government hands.  Part of the restructuring of a government to prevent the recurrence of conflict and to protect human rights has to be the revitalization and modernization of the governmental archives system.  Each country has to have the capacity to manage its court records and military records, records of diplomacy and records of land title.  As part of rebuilding government structures after a period of civic trauma, we have to find ways to persuade governments and donors that rebuilding archives is also crucial.*

Other professionals argue that while trust is a strong factor in determining the custody of records documenting wide-scale abuse, the argument should go further to state that is it the trust of survivors and victim’s families that is paramount.  By all accounts, the commonly suggested alternative to government custody are grassroots organizations and other NGOs represented by survivors or those directly affected by the crimes.

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* Excerpt taken from New Tactics Dialogue on Archiving Human Rights for Advocacy, Justice & Memory

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FOI Legislation Often Outdated and Ignored in Developed World

AP released an investigative article last month on the contradictions of what they term, “right-to-know” laws, or what information professionals usually dub Freedom of Information (FOI) or Access to Information legislation.  The  news source found that developing democracies with newly established FOI laws are better at fully addressing access to information requests from the public, citing Guatemala and India as cases.  European and North American countries however fared less adequately in this regard. US FOIA officials in the Department of Justice attribute their inadequacy to an inability to tackle the challenges that come with the emergence of electronic records.  AP suggests that FOI laws founded in developed countries early in the formation of FOI legislation are showing their age.

In developing democracies where FOI laws are in use, the ideal of giving voice to ordinary people by enabling them with the right to know information has been realized.  However, the successful execution of these laws is not without its costs.  AP shows that in India retributive crimes arise against ordinary citizens who seek answers  through the use of right-to-know laws. These individuals normally seek justice in holding accountable corrupt authorities who in turn terrorize them for exercising their right to information.

In light of the harm these laws can engender for those who use them, there is still a long road ahead for developing democracies beyond right-to-know laws.  Such transparency laws are not guarantees of open societies that will protect its citizens despite the new powers they offer them…

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ICA Human Rights Archives Directory

For some years now, the ICA Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) has been trying to establish a directory of human rights archives from around the globe.  This summer, I began volunteering with the ICA HRWG as project co-director on their directory project.  In case you are not aware, the directory project aims to build on-line directory of (1) archives that identify themselves as human rights archives and (2) archives that are part of a human rights organization and are open to the public.

In collaboration with the other project director, the indispensable Tessa Fallon, Web Collection Curator at Columbia University Libraries, and under the guidance of ICA HRWG chair and experienced American archivist, Trudy Huskamp Peterson, we have compiled data on such organizations and institutions based on the ISDIAH standard.  This past week, Tessa has built a beta version of the online platform from which our compiled data can be shared and disseminated.  Yesterday, on October 25, Trudy presented the site to members of the working group and the ICA during the annual CITRA 2011 conference in Toledo, Spain.

We invite you to view this site and welcome any suggestions or comments you may want to share with the project staff through the site.  If you know of an organization/archives that should be included in the directory or if you feel that your organization’s archives belongs in this group, please do not hesitate to contact us.  You may also contact me through this blog regarding the project or the project’s new web platform.

Go to ICA HRWG directory project site

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The Struggle to Document Egypt’s Revolution

Khaled Elfiqi/EPAHistorians are racing to gather material for the national archives, but the decisions about what to include have political significance.

On any given evening Cairo’s Tahrir Square creaks under the weight of its own recent history: trinket-sellers flog martyrs’ pendants, veterans of the uprising hold up spent police bullets recovered from the ground, and an ad hoc street cinema screens YouTube compilations of demonstrators and security forces clashing under clouds of teargas. This is collective memory by the people, for the people – with no state functionaries around to curate what is remembered or forgotten.

Less than a week after the fall of Mubarak, professor, Khaled Fahmy received a phone call from the head of Egypt”s national archives asking him to oversee a unique new project that would document the country’s dramatic political and social upheaval this year.  The Committee to Document the 25th January Revolution is staffed by volunteers and drawing on everything from official records and insurrectionary pamphlets to multimedia footage and updates on Twitter and Facebook, the project aims, in Fahmy’s words, “to gather as much primary data on the revolution as possible and deposit it in the archives so that Egyptians now and in the future can construct their own narratives about this pivotal period.”  The project will also collect hundreds of hours of recorded testimony from those involved in the struggle to bring down Mubarak – whether they supported the revolution or not.

“The question of access to information and archives is political, because reading history is interpreting history, and interpreting history is one way of making it,” adds Fahmy. “Closing people off from the sources of their own history is an inherently political gesture, and equally opening that up is a political – even revolutionary – act.”

Fahmy’s committee is not the only group attempting to pry open a long-held tradition of official concealment. Within a few weeks of Mubarak’s fall, protesters had ransacked the headquarters of Egypt’s notorious state security service, looting thousands of classified documents and placing many of them online. Last month the country’s first freedom of information law was drawn up, though there is no guarantee it will make it on to the statute books…

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Breaking the Information Bottleneck – From Requesting to Accessing Information

NYTimes thomas fuchsThe New York Times reported this weekend that a handful of legislators and government agencies in the U.S. are trying to break the information bottleneck.  “All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure,” President Obama wrote in a memorandum about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  But two and a half years after the president’s call for openness, only 49 of 90 federal agencies have reported making concrete changes to their FOIA procedures, according to a recent analysis by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, which collects and publishes declassified government documents.  Long backlogs of requests for information, along with responses that take a year or more, are common.

The Justice Department has introduced a Web site, which shows which agencies last year had the biggest backlogs of FOIA requests (State and Homeland Security) and which had the most full-time FOIA staff members (Defense and Justice).  Long delays, however, can render once-timely information irrelevant.  And the real causes of the hold-ups may not only be limited staff resources but may also include an agency’s desire to control its public image, says David Sobel, the senior counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency and consumer digital rights.  To tackle the problem, the Senate passed a bill last month, introduced by Mr. Leahy and called the Faster FOIA Act , whose goal is to expedite the way agencies process requests.

The new frontier in government accountability is not faster responses to information requests.  It is an era of open data in which government departments put their information online in usable, searchable formats.  That would eliminate the need for many people to file individual FOIA requests — and for agencies to undertake the labor-intensive process of answering them…

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EuropeanaTech Conference – Registration Open

EuropeanaTech is the final conference of the EU project EuropeanaConnect and is organised in collaboration with the Europeana Foundation.  It promises to explore technical challenges of making digital cultural and scientific information attractive and easily accessible for the public.  An important goal of this conference is to build the community of technical and scientific experts in the field.  At the core of the conference are interaction, demonstration and the exchange of experiences.

It takes place October 4-5, 2011 in Austrian National Library in Vienna.  Entry to the conference is free and open to all.  Places are limited and registration is requested.  The main strands of the conference will be:

– Open Source
– Open Data
– Aggregation and (Meta-) Data Quality
– Explore and Discover
– Distributed Community Empowerment

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